Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., asked a U. S. Customs and Border Protection official Wednesday what obstacles would have to be overcome to win passage of a bill proposing upgrading the Port of Wild Horse north of Havre to a 24-hour commercial port. “I would guess there are a number of people here who want to know about Wild Horse,” Tester told Michele James, director of field operations for U. S. Customs and Border Patrol during a Senate field hearing in Havre. James, who oversees customs operations from Seattle to Minnesota, told Tester that the number of vehicles don’t justify upgrading the port, even to increasing its operation to 16 or 18 hours a day. Year-round. Tester asked what would need to be done before CBP could support the idea, for which he has sponsored legislation in the Senate. “Just to cut to the chase, if (Senator) Max Baucus and I were to get some push for this back east, you would not be adverse to it?” he asked. James said some guarantee that traffic would increase would be needed before CBP could support the upgrade,. “We would need a commitment from trade,” she said. Tester chaired a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in Havre Wednesday on the issue of security on the U.S.-Canadian border after a three-day tour of the U.S.-Canadian border in eastern Montana. He digressed from the main topic to ask James about support for upgrading Wild Horse. On Nov. 5, Tester introduced a bill directing the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to designate Wild Horse a commercial port and to upgrade the facility to be open 24-hours-a-day. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. The issue has been pushed by an international committee co-chaired by Havre Mayor Bob Rice and former Medicine Hat, Alberta, Mayor Garth Vallely. The push has strong support in both Alberta and Montana. In 2007, state Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee, introduced a bill urging the state government and its congressional delegation to work with Homeland Security and the Federal Highway Administration to make Wild Horse a 24-hour port. The bill passed on the final readings 93-6 in the House and 47-2 in the Senate. Supporters of the proposal say it will help with the economies of both countries, providing another commercial port between Montana and the booming economy in Alberta, and also providing a direct shot to the operations harvesting petroleum from the oil sands in northeastern Alberta and to the highly developed oil fields around Medicine Hat. The only 24-hour commercial port between Montana and Alberta is the Sweetgrass-Couts port north of Shelby. Wild Horse allows commercial traffic by permit only, and is open 8 a.m. to 9 p. m. from May 15 to Sept. 30, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to May 14. Tester brought laughter from the crowd of more than 100 people at the field hearing Wednesday when he told James not to worry about her response to the sensitive issue. “Everybody had to check their weapons at the door,” Tester said. “I appreciate that,” James jokingly replied. James said that although CBP is always interested in increasing staff and operations on the border, the amount of traffic doesn’t justify upgrading Wild Horse. “Looking at the data, the number of vehicles going through, the data doesn’t support making it a 24-hour commercial port,” she said. Supporters of the initiative have said that is because of its limited status vehicles, especially commercial vehicles, will detour to Sweetgrass because of its hours and permit-only status, they say. Tester cut himself short on the topic to move the hearing, already running late, along. “I could actually spend another hour with you about this,” he said. “I am sure you could,” James replied, to more laughter from the crowd.